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A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings
by Gabriel García Márquez
A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings Story Summary
A rainstorm causes crabs to fill Pelayo's house, and his little baby to run a fever. Rainstorms, crabs, illness … this is sounding pretty plague-y to us. When he comes back from throwing out the crabs, Pelayo notices something groaning in the patio. Pelayo goes closer. It's an old man, but not just any old man. This particular geezer has a pair of gigantic wings. Instead of freaking out, Pelayo goes to get his wife Elisenda to check out his find. The old man is dressed in rags, he's missing most of his hair and teeth, and his wings are totes gross, all filthy and muddy. Not too many beauty salons where he comes from, apparently. Elisenda and Pelayo try talking to the old man, but they don't understand the language he speaks back to them. They decide he must be a shipwrecked sailor—from space?—but decide to ask their wise neighbor just in case. The neighbor lady takes one look at him and declares that the old man is an angel of death who had been coming to take the sick baby, but that since he was so old the rain knocked him down and he failed in his mission. Baby: 1. Angel of Death: 0. Words spreads, and soon the whole neighborhood knows that Pelayo has an angel living in his house. Paging TMZ: that is some pretty hot gossip. The neighbor lady wants to kill the angel, because of some wacky beliefs she has about them, but Elisenda and Pelayo can't bring themselves to do it. Just for safekeeping, they lock the old man in the chicken coop overnight. The rain finally stops, and the baby wakes up cured from his fever. Did the old man work some magic? Elisenda and Pelayo figure better safe than sorry, so they agree to set the old man out to sea on a raft with some food and water. When they head out to get him, though, they see a crowd gathered around the chicken coop, checking out the angel. The priest is worried about all the crazy angel business, and he's moseyed on over to see what's up. People are coming up with ideas about what to do with the angel, like maybe make him mayor of the world, or promote him to five-star general, or even breed him and make a new race of winged men. The priest gets into the coop with the angel and tries speaking Latin to him, the language that priests used in Catholic religious ceremonies at that time. No luck—the man doesn't seem to understand Latin. Since (the priest thinks) Latin is God's language, obvs, the guy must be a phony. Hmm, did you try Aramaic? The stench, mangy feathers, and fleas don't help, either. The priest warns the crowd that the devil might be tricking them, and that wings do not an angel make. He does decide to write a letter to the bishop, asking him to write to the pope, in order to get a definitive ruling on the oldster's angel status. This is not as quick as a text message or an email, in case you were wondering. After troops—yes, troops—are called in to disperse the crowd at Elisenda and Pelayo's house, Elisenda gets the bright idea of charging admission to see the "angel." It's a bargain at five cents a peep. People come from far and wide to see whether the angel can cure their various ailments, and Pelayo and Elisenda make a killing. Cha-ching! The poor angel doesn't seem to enjoy the gawkers and hawkers. Weird, right? They're like brats at a petting zoo, trying to get him to eat weird things, plucking out his feathers, and throwing stones at him. Finally, they burn him with a branding iron to see whether he's alive or not. Well, look at that: he definitely is alive, and he reacts angrily for the first time since his arrival. This does the trick, and the people start to leave him alone. The priest investigates, writing back and forth to the Vatican. But the Church can't seem to decide whether the old fogey with wings is just an old fogey with wings, or a heavenly creature. The angel is losing credibility because the "miracles" he performs don't quite work right. When a blind man comes to see him, he grows more teeth instead of regaining his sight. Not too good for business. And then, a carnival comes to town. One of its sideshows, a woman who had been turned into a spider, steals most of the angel's audience. It's no biggie. By this time, Elisenda and Pelayo have gotten so rich that they've built a big, new house and bought lots of nice clothes. Pelayo is even able to quit his job. It turns out having an angel in your chicken coop is a lot like winning the lottery. Well, unless you're the angel. He's not getting a cut of the earnings, and he's still living in the filthy chicken coop. Elisenda and Pelayo's child, the one who had had a fever when the old man first showed up, is growing up and basically treats the angel like his pet. The kid and the old man get chicken pox at the same time. When the doctor comes to check them out he's shocked at how the wings seem perfectly natural, like all humans should have them. The chicken coop caves in, so the old man just kind of drags himself around the house. He drives Elisenda crazy because he seems to be in every corner, just like he's managed to duplicate himself. The angel starts to go blind, and he's losing feathers. (Don't worry... just because he's like the boy's pet doesn't mean this is another .) Old Yeller Since this situation is getting pretty pathetic, Pelayo takes pity and lets the old man sleep in the shed instead of outside. Oh, and he also notices that he's got a fever and seems delirious. Hm, maybe you should call that doctor? He's also speaking some language that sounds like it might be Norwegian. Elisenda and Pelayo are afraid that the old man will die and they won't know the proper protocol for a dead angel. Well, we're not sure the proper protocol for a live angel involves keeping him in your chicken coop … but, whatevs. The old man gets better as winter ends, and new feathers even grow on his wings. He begins to sing old sailor songs, quietly, so no one will notice. Finally, Elisenda sees him fly off. Whew! He's back to the realm of the imaginary, and not a real nuisance in her life anymore.
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